chapter  3
21 Pages

The Power of a Fragmented Collective: Radical pluralist feminism and technologies of the self in the sports blogosphere

With the rise of the Internet in the early 1990s as a site free from institutional control of mass communication arose optimism among feminists about its transformative potential in the lives of women (Worthington, 2005). Women’s participation in online communities was seen as allowing for feminist political resistance to institutional/mainstream media messages, which have long been criticized as reinforcing women’s oppression (van Zoonen, 1994; Vavrus, 2007). “Cyberfeminism” was coined for work on the ways the Internet could be used to empower women (Shade, 2002). The possibilities of the Internet for female athletes and the promotion of

women’s sport have been part of this work. Advocates have envisioned it as a space of possibilities for moving women’s sports from the cultural margins to a position similar to the hallowed place for men’s sports (Favorito, 2007; Maxwell, 2009; Messner, 2002). There is no disputing the lowly place of women’s sports in relationship to men’s in U.S. culture; the research demonstrating this reality across time and space, in every medium and across every sport, is voluminous and easily accessible. (See the Appendix in this book for a list of key articles.) The dominant discourse in relation to women’s sport is one that devalues female athletes through a paucity of coverage and presents them in ways that often emphasize their femininity and (hetero)sexuality (Duncan, 2006). Although the “jury is still out” on the transformative potential of the Internet for

girls and women in sport, research indicates that, thus far, the overall trend does not look promising (Hardin, 2009). Sites such as Deadspin and The Big Lead, where sexist discourse is run-of-the-mill fare, dominate the sports blogosphere. For instance, Deadspin introduced the new Nike World Cup home jersey for the U.S. women’s team by showing the uniform on a Playboy model; a Big Lead entry on the attractiveness and attire of ESPN commentator Hannah Storm drew comments

by readers such as “I’d bang her” and “I’d just buy her shot after shot and then (allegedly) rape her in a bathroom” (Duffy, 2010; Petchesky, 2010). New-media discourse, it seems, is simply replicating the old. From a Gramscian

perspective, the landscape can still be summarized as reinforcing traditionally masculine, patriarchal hegemony, where women generally remain powerless in relationship to the sport/media complex. There are pockets of progress. Women’s professional sports leagues often com-

municate with fans in an unfiltered manner. Athletes such as tennis champion Serena Williams, WNBA star Candace Parker and Olympic hockey player Angela Ruggiero use Web sites and Twitter feeds to build a fan base. And a tiny – but growing – number of bloggers are amassing around women’s sports. How can and should sports feminists assess these developments? What theoretical

lens best situates the potential for the Internet – specifically, the blogosphere – to transform the dominant discourse around women’s and men’s sports? As a sports feminist who has also been a participant in the sports blogosphere (albeit sporadically), I have been intrigued by the women and men who gather there on behalf of the women’s sports enterprise. Thus, I have aimed to consider the transformative power of the blogosphere through a project with a much narrower aspiration: to discover how a handful of bloggers, connected through a network of blogs, relate to dominant discourses and see their missions. In doing so, I chose a Foucauldian perspective for reasons I will explain as this

chapter unfolds. I do not try to present the totality of Foucauldian thought – only key features, through a feminist lens, as they apply to this work. I present Foucauldian concepts through a selected group of key feminist scholars, some identified directly with scholarship on sport.